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Doylum was a word commonly used in Leeds, Yorkshire, North of England, where I grew up in the 1960s/70s. It basically means idiot - "What a doylum!"

At the time I thought this was strictly a Leeds word, but a quick search online finds it is still used and appears to be very popular with fans of Newcastle United and Hartlepool football teams. What this says about their quality of players I really couldn't say.

It also crops up on Yorkshire dialect sites, but so far I can't find any explanation of its origin. Does anyone have any ideas?

Also, Hartlepool and Newcastle are some 75-100 miles from Leeds - does anyone know if the word has spread there in the last 40 years or has it always been used there? Someone suggested to me that it might come from Yiddish as there is a large Jewish population in Leeds, though this would only be relevant if it truly is a Leeds word.

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Yaron Matras, in his 2010 Romani in Britain: The Afterlife of a Language has this entry...

fool n. doylem ER dinilo; Yiddish goylem
(ER = European Romani)

From Wikipedia: in Modern Hebrew, golem is used to mean "dumb" or "helpless". Similarly, it is often used today as a metaphor for a brainless lunk...

The Yiddish origin is also given here, but that's a page on the University of Manchester's site, where Matras is a Professor of Linguistics. I believe him though, even if he's the only authority I can find.

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And yet another meritorious source:

Yorkshire Words Today : A Glossary of Regional Dialect (1997), page 41:

DOYLEM n simpleton (?derived from doychle) WR cf. EDD doychle Sc, also written doichle, 'a dull stupid person; a sloven', also 'to walk in a stupid, dreamy state'; cf. EDD entry for the West Country word doll, 'to talk foolishly, distractedly', and OED dolled, dollt, 'stupid; foolish, crazed; affected in mind'.

  • >cf. EDD doychle Sc, also written doichle, 'a dull stupid person. Is this connected with "douche" too ? – Pam Sep 15 '13 at 14:48
  • 1
    No, not to any extent. Doylem can be traced back to Gr. tholeros, confused, muddy, turbid, gloomy, dirty, dim, dense. Douche is rooted in PIE *deuk-, to lead. – Talia Ford Sep 15 '13 at 14:59
  • Thank you! So like the Italian "duce" (?) Strange then that douche seems to be used more like a similar insult now. – Pam Sep 15 '13 at 15:18
  • Strange are the ways of our Lord :D – Talia Ford Sep 15 '13 at 15:25
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There's also the spelling doylem. I shouldn't dabble in this one, but I will say that I find it interesting that Doyle stems from Irish Dubhghaill (ˈd̪ˠʊwəlʲ), dubh "black" + gall "stranger", and that that term was used by the Irish to desribe "new foreigners", who had darker skin than them and who arrived during Tudor conquest of Ireland [wiki]. In some languages, foreigners have been known to get a label "the mutes" by the locals, because they'd speak a language no one understood, and also they couldn't understand a word of the language of the locals. Another word for mute is dumb, which idiots are.

Edit:
Someone's given an up vote, do keep them coming, but bear in mind that this is hardly more than folk etymology.

  • I hadn't thought of a connection with the surname Doyle. This map shows a distribution of Doyles concentrated in northern England, though more in Lancashire than Yorkshire. But it's hard to understand how this relates to the native English using the term for unintelligible strangers. Any more thoughts? – Mynamite Sep 15 '13 at 0:35
  • no not really :) – Talia Ford Sep 15 '13 at 0:43
  • Important to note is that the dubh here refers not to people's skin, but to their hair colour. Duine dubh is not a black person, but a black-haired person—someone whose skin is black (well, various shades of brown) is duine gorm ‘a blue person’. This is, interestingly, parallelled in Old Norse, where it's blámaðr ‘blueman’. All this notwithstanding, I find this a clever idea, but FumbleFingers' answer seems more likely to be true. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 15 '13 at 2:09
  • (When using dubh in derogatory terms for the ‘new foreigners’, it does not necessarily mean ‘black’ as much as just ‘bad, vicious’; compare an Fear Dubh ‘the Black Man’, which is a common epithet of the Devil.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 15 '13 at 2:13
  • Great stuff, thank you for both of those. It had actually dawned on me that it wasn't the skin only, but also hair, but I figured darker skin implied darker hair, so I sort of lumped it all under 'skin' – Talia Ford Sep 15 '13 at 2:21
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'Doyle' a local term of endearment indeed and local colloquialism - I have grown up in Hartlepool (75 Miles North of Leeds) and still reside there now in my 48th year. And to this day I still use the word 'Doyle' for someone who is daft, fool or idiot, mainly to friends, so the word is very frequent in our everyday vocabulary.

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Interesting. I heard the tale on more than one occasion that doylem derived from a Batley-dwelling family named Doyle who carried on a notoriously delinquent lifestyle at some unspecified time in the past.

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I grew up in Wakefield in the 1970s, so I am familiar with the word. I am not sure it specifically a Leeds word like loiner, but more of a Yorkshire word.

Purely anecdotally, I was once told that it was derived from the allegedly Irish surname Doyle. As I have seen it written as doilum I am not convinced by that explanation. I have also been told that it has Norse origin, and even that it has a Chinese origin.

Actual hard evidence is difficult to find, so maybe it doesn't really have an origin. It is just fun to say, like wazzock.

  • Ah, wazzock. I remember it well. – Mynamite Sep 15 '13 at 19:46

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